Category Archives: writing advice

Worldbuilding – my process.

Paiting a new world, what's more exciting then that?
Paiting a new world, what’s more exciting then that?

After I wrote this post about the importance of worldbuilding, I received several comments on Facebook asking for more examples of my process. Since I’m outlining Shadow Hunters, a story that I will be writing during NaNoWriMo 2015, I have a very fresh worldbuilding example to share, so why not write a post about it, huh?

 

Usually, all my stories start with a scene that just pops into my head in its entirety, like it’s been cut out of a movie. In the case of Shadow Hunters, it all started with the following scene:

 

A cable car cabin is slowly making its way above a vast forest. There are two people in it. A man and a woman, both in their late teens / early twenties. They sit on opposite sides of the cabin, as far away from each other as possible. They sit in tense silence, throwing wary glances at each other from time to time. There is definitely history between the two.

 

All of a sudden, the cabin lurches into a stop. Three things happen almost simultaneously. The girl draws her twin long knives and launches at the boy. The cable snaps. The cabin plunges towards the forest floor.

 

That’s it. That’s all I had to work with. One scene does not a story make, so it’s my job as a writer to discover the story this scene belongs to. And the only way to do that is to start asking questions.

Creating new worlds.
Creating new worlds.

The first question that came to my mind, surprisingly, wasn’t “Who are these people?” but “did they survive the fall?” The answer was – yes.

 

Which brought forth another question – how? Because the girl is a Shadow Hunter. But who or what are the Shadow Hunters? That simple question turned out to be the most crucial one, because to answer it fully, I had to build this whole new world and set up the rules.

 

Only after I did that could I go back to the scene and ask all the other questions like did those two know each other? What were they doing in that cable car alone? Did she really try to kill him? All those questions deal with the actual story, but in order to tell that story, I need to know the world these characters live in.

 

So what are the Shadow Hunters? They are a special caste of people who act as intermediaries and mediators between humans and spirits. They are the only ones allowed to travel through the wilderness freely as well as to guide humans along specially designated routes.

 

This answer raises a multitude of other questions. Humans and spirits? Wilderness? Castes? The answer to each of those questions will show me a bit more about this new world and bring forth even more questions.

good-luck-road-sign

In order to answer the question about humans and spirits, I had to do an extensive research and spent four days binge reading everything I could find about Japanese, Chinese and Korean spirits and mystical monsters, as well as everything about Shinto, because this Japanese religion is the closest to what exists in the world of Shadow Hunters.

 

When I raked my brain about the significance of the wilderness, I learned that this world was divided into several human kingdoms that exist within fixed borders and are surrounded by spirit lands called the wilderness. They are connected by several unchanging routes, the cable-car road from the above-mentioned scene being one of them. For a human to venture into the wilderness uninvited or without a shadow hunter guide means certain and often painful death.

 

So why are the shadow hunters able to travel through the spirit lands freely? Because they go through a ritual that makes them more than human, but not quite spirit. They bridge that divide, with their feet in both worlds but belonging to neither.

 

Caste is another word that brought forth more questions. If there is one caste, does that mean there are others? Is this a rigidly divided society like we see in India or ancient China? Another dive into the currents of the Internet and an intensive read about those two countries gave me my caste structure which plays a significant part in the worldbuilding.

 

This also made me think about how people from different castes would recognize each other. That’s important. Their whole attitude and behavior towards each other depends upon knowing where you and the person you are talking to stands on the social ladder. They need a way to determine that quickly and with minimal room for errors. What better way to do that than to integrate the caste into their very names? So I spent a few more days devising a system where certain castes could only begin their names with certain letters, and how those names and surnames changes when they married into different families and (rarely) a different caste.

 

Of course, a lot more questions followed after that, and all of them helped me discover more about this brave new world, but I won’t mention them here because “Spoilers, dear,” as River Song from Doctor Who would say.

River Song from Doctor Who.
River Song from Doctor Who.

But as you can see, after asking myself some very simple questions and taking the time to explore the answers, I managed to go from one scene to a fully fleshed out world.

 

Now I could sit down and ask story related questions like who the hell are you people? What are you doing in that cable car to begin with? What’s the history between you two? But that could be the topic of a whole new blog post.

 

So here is a little insight into my worldbuilding process. How about yours? How do you discover your stories? How do you get to know your world and characters?

Characters should grow and evolve with the story.

Creating new worlds.
Creating new worlds.

Humanity loves good stories. If we didn’t, there wouldn’t be so many books published, movies filmed and TV series renewed long past the date they stopped being relevant. We love forgetting about our everyday life and losing ourselves in the problems of fictional characters for a few hours. Sometimes we just need a distraction, but sometimes seeing these characters grow and overcome their troubles helps us face ours. That’s why stories are so important.

 

I receive a lot of review requests from self-published authors, so I have been reading a lot of new books lately. And I have noticed a worrying tendency – a lot of books tell a story, yes, but forget that a story is first and foremost about character growth. In the past 2 weeks alone I had started and dropped about 7 books because there was no character progression. They were well written and well-edited. Things were happening, the story was moving, but the main characters remained absolutely the same. It felt like nothing affected them at all. Unfortunately, that is the best way to lose my interest and make me put the book down.

 

I don’t know about you, but to me, all stories are primary about character growth, no matter the genre in which they are written. Even in mystery novels, the detective investigating a story is irrevocably changed by what he finds at the end of the book. The hero who sets off to rescue the princess / save his kingdom / just go on an adventure comes back older and (hopefully) wiser than he was at the beginning of the book.

pen-and-paper

Harry Potter starts book 1 as a naive twelve years old boy who is ignorant about the wizarding world and the role he played and still has to play in it. By the end of book 7, he is a radically different person: he has grown, not only physically, but also mentally. He has suffered great losses and found love and friendship along the way. He has matured and discovered what his priorities are and what he is willing to sacrifice for the people he loves. That’s why his choice to go to Voldemort and basically let him kill him to destroy the last horcrux is so significant. It shows that character growth.

 

The story doesn’t have to be as dramatic as that though. I have finished watching an excellent Korean drama called Queen of Reversals, and it’s all about everyday life. There are no life or death situations, no care chases or serial killers, but the story still pulls you in and keeps you wanting more, making you watch episode after episode. Why? Because it’s all about character growth. The story itself is simple and easy to relate to. A successful woman falls in love and marries after a whirlwind courtship. She gets pregnant and becomes stay at home mom while her husband struggles to earn a living. Unfortunately, he is nowhere as smart and successful as his wife has been, which puts a strain on their marriage, so she is forced to go back to work after 5 years, starting basically at the bottom of the ladder again. The whole story is about her struggle to go back to the top of that ladder again and to regain her self-confidence. A lot of things happen along the way, like her marriage failing and ending in a messy divorce coupled with problems at work that she has to overcome. Nothing earth-shattering. Just everyday stuff that all of us face in our lives as well.

It’s basically  a story about someone who loses everything and sees her life crumble in front of her eyes and has the strength to pull herself back up and fight for her success and happiness. Someone who gets betrayed by the person she loved, but still finds the courage to love and trust again. That’s why we can relate so well, that’s why we root for the heroine and cry and laugh with her until the end of the series.

 

That’s the point of the story, to make the characters change and evolve. If they don’t, then “Houston, we have a problem.” And I have noticed that a lot of first-time writers tend to overlook that character growth for some reason. They throw everything into the story. They add mystery after mystery, twist after twist. They up the stakes, throw dragons, armies and the next apocalypse at their protagonist, but forget that everything that happens MUST change that protagonist somehow, even if it’s in small ways.

hourglass_parchment_quill_cover

If the heroine never learns from her mistakes and is just as loud, obnoxious and clueless at the end of the book as she was at the beginning – I’m sorry, she is not someone I can be bothered with. I want to read about fleshed out people, not  cheap video game characters who never evolve, but just level up and get better gear.

 

A good story is about characters. It’s about their journey and their trials. About how they grow and learn. About how they become a better person in the end… or turn into a monster. Doesn’t matter which way they go, as long as they evolve. Give me a good character arc with a satisfying ending, and I will be happy. But no amount of car chases and explosions will keep my interest if your world is populated with cardboard cutouts frozen in space and time.

 

That’s why when I start working on a story, I don’t think “what’s this story about?” I think “What do I want my characters to learn with this story? How do I want them to evolve?” I find it that the story just sort of comes to you once you determine your character’s arc.

The Writer’s worst enemy – self-doubt.

I have noticed that since I started writing almost 2 years ago, I am a more susceptible to extreme mood swings about my work. I can be on cloud nine one day about finally finishing that first draft, and absolutely hate is the next day because I’m certain that it’s just a load of crap and I just want to press DELETE and set my computer on fire.

 

Correct me if I’m wrong, but this must be a problem common to all creative people. I think it’s largely due to the fact that writing a book, creating a painting, or composing a beautiful song often takes a lot of time. Most of that time is spent toiling in our own corner, alone with our muse (if we’re lucky and that sucker actually deigned to grace us with his presence), our thoughts and our doubts.

Lack of Motivation
Lack of Motivation

It’s hard work and there is no instant gratification. You might get praise and admiration once that book is published, that painting is showcased or that song is played. Or you might get critiqued and ridiculed. Either way, there is no way to know until it’s done and out there for the world to see. Until that day, we simply have no way to know if what we create is any good or not.

 

It can be especially daunting when writing a novel, because it takes a LONG time. From the moment this plot bunny on crack happily hopped into your brain and wreaked havoc in it until the moment the finished novel is published, months if not years can pass. You spend time researching, creating your world, getting to know your characters, outlining the story to discover where it’s going. Then you sit down and write that horrible first draft with your own tears and blood. Then you have to edit it to resemble an actual novel that other people might want to read. Then you send it to beta readers who shred it to pieces. Then you get it back and edit it again. Then you send it to the editor who shreds it to pieces. Then you rewrite it yet again. That’s why you really need to be in love with our story when you start writing, because you will be spending  A LOT of time with it.

 

In any case, that’s a lot of work and a lot of time for insidious seeds of self-doubt to start creeping in and growing roots. And soon we start hearing that little voice in our head telling us that nobody will read what we write anyway, because it’s worthless, so we might as well give up now and spare us time and future humiliation. You know the sad part about it? Eight out of ten people who started writing a book will listen to this voice and give up before they even finish their first draft. And an overwhelming majority of those who actually finish it will be to scared by the prospect of dreaded revisions to pick it up again…

revision angst

Self-doubt is the slayer of dreams and the murderer of books. It’s an insidious monster that is very hard to fight against.

 

I must admit that it caught up with me about 3 weeks ago. I suddenly noticed that I wasn’t really motivated to write or edit anymore. I knew I needed to do it, but there always seemed to be an excuse NOT to do it. Dinner needs to be cooked, the day job is hard and demanding, the next episode of my favorite series is out… And when I would sit down to edit Mists, my thoughts would turn down the dangerous path of self-doubt.

 

The following thoughts would start crowding in my head. I’ve been writing non-stop for almost 2 years, but what do I have to show for that? One short story published in an anthology. I have three finished first drafts, but none of the novels is fully edited and nowhere near ready to be released. It feels like I have achieved nothing. And that feeling was dragging me down.

Facewall

So what is the best weapon against self-doubt? First of all, find someone who will cheer you up. Even though writing is a solitary profession, we are never completely alone, especially with the internet at our fingertips. Talk to your family if they support your dreams, or your friends, or that special beta reader whom you share all your ideas with. Get on Twitter or Facebook and shout out to other writers – you will be amazed at the level of support and understanding you will get.

 

But most importantly, try to look at the situation in a positive light. In my case, instead of thinking about what I haven’t achieved in two years, I looked at what I managed to accomplish. I had a short story published. I wrote 3 more short stories in the same series. I actually managed to finish 3 full-size novels. I have at least 3 more novels in various stages of planning. I am so close to finishing my rewrite of Mists that I can almost see the publication date… If you look at it this way, I actually managed to accomplish quite a lot in those 2 years. And what do you know? I am motivated to finish editing that novel now!

 

I am interested in your opinions as well. Do you experience self-doubt? What do you do to fight it off?

Why I write my first drafts longhand.

hourglass_parchment_quill_cover

Several people on Twitter asked why I write all of my first drafts longhand since it’s so much quicker to type it directly into Scrivener. While I answered them, there is only so much you can fit in 140 characters. Plus, I think that this is a good topic for a blog post.

I have been a writer for almost two years now, so I think that I have pretty much found a routine that works best for me. I went through a long process of trial and error to get there, but I’m pretty happy with what I have now (though every process can be perfected indefinitely). So maybe my ramblings and explanations can help someone else who is struggling with their productivity and is still looking for the best way to put words on the page?

Anyway, here are some of the reasons why I write my first drafts longhand.

 

1. You can carry a notepad and pen anywhere you go.

 

I work full time as an Office Manager and writing happens on top of that. My writing time can happen any time I have a spare minute: it could be during a 15 minute coffee break, during lunch, in the bathroom (yes, I have been known to go to the loo with a notepad, shock!), or in bed when my husband is asleep. So with this erratic schedule, it’s much easier to carry a small notepad and a pen in my purse than a tablet / netbook.

Plus, I need a normal keyboard to type fast. I hate the touch screen keyboard on my iPad, plus it seems like it can be laggy. Nothing aggravates  me more than to type up a whole sentence and wait for it to show on screen… only to notice that I mistyped something halfway through and have to break the flow and go back to correct. GRR. I know that some people don’t pay attention to mistakes when they write down their first draft, and mostly I don’t either, but when I notice one, I can’t just press on without correcting it first.

Also, a small notepad is easier to fit on the table during lunch than a tablet / netbook, especially how small the tables in some restaurants are.  And if I spill a drink on it by accident (it’s been known to happen), I only wasted $4-5 instead of $500.

Blue blood on the page!
Blue blood on the page!

2. Keeps you focused on the task at hand.

 

Don’t know about you guys, but when I sit at the computer, I can find a million things to keep me from writing. I would start writing something, then decide to look up a word on google, then read an interesting article, then check on Twitter, oh and Facebook just buzzed me that there is a new post, and where did 3 hours of my life go? End result – almost nothing written and lots of time on stupid stuff.

When I am alone with my pen and paper, I HAVE to focus on what I’m writing instead of letting my brain flutter around like a butterfly on Red Bull (especially if I leave my cell in the purse and resist the temptation to check Twitter every 15 mins as well). So I get a lot more writing done in 1 hour with a pen and paper than sitting in front of my computer, even though my typing speed is much faster than my writing speed.

Usually, during my 1 hour lunch, I manage to write about 600-800 words (and eat something as well, most of the time). As an example, I’ve been trying to write this blog post for the past 3 hours and I barely got to the midpoint. Granted, it’s Monday and I have a lot of work to do as well, but I also spent a lot of time procrastinating on the internet instead of writing.

 

3. Helps organize your thoughts.

 

I don’t know about you, but I have noticed that writing longhand forces me to organize my thoughts better, which in turn results in a cleaner first draft that requires less editing afterwards. Writing longhand gives me the opportunity to think about the scene I’m working on, choose the right words and commit them to paper. While my hand finishes one sentence, my brain is already working on the best wording for the next one.

As I said, I can type really fast, but sometimes my fingers get ahead of my brain. So the resulting text is sometimes less than adequate. Don’t get me wrong, during NaNoWriMo, when I need to write 1666 words per day to get to 50k by the end of November, I usually bypass longhand and mostly write directly into my Scrivener file, but when I don’t have that time constraint, I prefer taking a much slower approach.

Plus, there is just something magical about seeing a pristine white page slowly getting covered with blue ink that motivates you to keep on writing. Seeing the words appear on a computer screen doesn’t quite have the same effect, maybe because the end result is not quite as immediately tangible (unless you print your work every day).

Creating new worlds.
Creating new worlds.

4. First round of editing when typing the text into Scrivener.

 

To me, that’s an added advantage of writing the first draft longhand. On the weekends, I usually try to type up everything I wrote during the week into my Scrivener file, which means that my text goes through a first round of edits almost on the spot. Sometimes I just change a word or two. Sometimes a  few sentences here and there. It also happened that I wasn’t entirely satisfied with a scene when I first put it on paper, but by the time I was typing it up, my brain had come up with a better version that ended up being a full rewrite of the original scene.

So to me, writing longhand has some definite advantages, even if the process takes longer. I think that for those struggling with concentration or motivation, this method might be beneficial as well.

 

What about you, my fellow writers, what are your preferred methods of putting words on paper. What helps you get through that hard to do first draft and get to the end?

Write what hurts.

revision angst

The more I edit, the more I tend to agree with the statement that putting your first draft away for at least a month (and longer if you can) is a must. I also recommend writing something else to clear your head in the meantime, preferably in a different genre. That way, when you come back to your story, it feels like a stranger and you rediscover it like a reader would. Let me tell you that all the flaws and inconsistencies will jump right at you from the page!

 

Another realization I came to after almost 2 years of doing this and 3 completed first drafts in various stages or revision is that I have a much clearer picture of my strengths and weaknesses as a writer now. It’s one of those weaknesses that I want to talk about in this blog post.

 

Let me be plain – all my first draft endings suck. The last third of each story always requires the most changes to beat it into shape. I was flabbergasted by this realization at first and ran to my beta extraordinaire for some advice. Well, okay, it’s more like I ran to her in a panic saying, “Oh my God, I suck! Why did I even think I could be doing this for a living? I want to burn all my drafts. Somebody shoot me now!”

Editing

Thankfully, she managed to pull me off the ledge and screw my head back right… and she also explained why I kept dropping my endings. She said, “You’re too nice to your characters.”

 

I went back and thought hard about it and realized that she was spot on. I like my characters so much that when I need to let them go through something painful, I cringe and pull back. Yes, I spare their feelings and their lives sometimes, but I also lower the stakes, kill the conflict, but most importantly, avoid that cathartic moment that’s the lowest low before the character’s final rise. Because I love them so much, I don’t let them crash and burn like they should. But a phoenix can’t rise unless it immolates itself first, right?

 

That’s why my advice today, for myself and for my readers is “Write what hurts.”

 

Yes, you love those characters, of course you do! You wouldn’t have decided to stick with them for months, telling their stories if you didn’t. That’s precisely why you can’t soften the blows when something in your story will hurt them. In fact, that’s precisely why you SHOULD write it. Don’t just light a bonfire, burn the whole damn house down. Make your characters go through fire, flood, heartbreak and despair. Sink them low, because that’s the only way they can rise as better human beings.

 

You can’t wrap your characters into bubble wrap and expect to write an interesting story. If your readers like your characters, they need to be worried about them. They need to cry with them and for them; they need to rage against the injustice they are facing with them; and they need to be released for them once they emerge victorious.  This can only happen if the stakes are high and the odds are seemingly insurmountable.

Laughter can keep darkness at bay, even if you are laughing through tears.
Laughter can keep darkness at bay, even if you are laughing through tears.

And for that to happen, you have to write what hurts. In fact, if it doesn’t hurt to write something, then it’s a good indicator that your story took a wrong turn somewhere. I admit that I still cringe at the thought of doing that to my characters, but I reassure myself with the idea that there is a light at the end of the tunnel for them (and no, it’s not an incoming train), and all the suffering only makes the ending more sweet.

 

And now I just need to dive in and totally rewrite the last two chapters of Mists to make it right. Then I need to go back and rewrite the ENTIRE last part of Broken Things as well. I’m in for a lot of pain… But isn’t that what writers do? They suffer with their characters.

We all have 20/20 Hindsight… and that’s good for editing.

Editing

You have all heard the phrase “We all have 20/20 hindsight,” right? Well, today I want to tell you that when it comes to editing your work, that’s a very good thing.

I don’t know about you, but my experience with a first draft is a lot like stumbling through a forest at night with only a flashlight and a hand-drawn map. Lots of flailing about in the dark, tripping over protruding roots and falling face first into ant hills. By the time I get to the end of the draft, I feel like I had a boxing match with an angry bear.

I mean, unless you outline every single scene in your story and never deviate from the plan, you will always get some good and some rather nasty surprises along the way.

Like I know that I need to get my protagonist from point A to point B but I have no clue what would even make her want to go to B, because B is a rather horrible place. So I come up with some lukewarm conflict or justification that doesn’t really work (and I know it doesn’t work), but at least has the merit of getting my character where I want her to go. I plot it on the page like a big brown smear and move on. Because I need to keep the story going and it will come to a grinding halt if I start agonizing over that turd I created for too long.

Or when your plot suddenly makes a twist and takes you into uncharted territory, and you wave your little flashlight around, but all you see are trees, and you think, “Well f^%k, now what?”

good-luck-road-sign

Or when you can’t get the character’s motivation just right no matter how hard you try…

You have to learn to look past all those bumps on the road and press towards the end because otherwise you will never finish your story. And that’s okay. Put that half-baked plot point in there and keep on going, because once you are done with your first draft and are ready to edit the monster, you’ll benefit from the famous 20/20 hindsight.

Now that you see the big picture and you know how your story ends, you can go back and determine which parts don’t work towards that goal. And I can assure you, that they will stick out like a sore thumb now that they are part of something bigger and you’ve gained some perspective.

Looking at your character’s arc, you will suddenly have the revelation you needed about what really made him move from that point A to that point B. And it’s not the lukewarm justification you had concocted in your first draft, but something so visceral that your character runs to that point B screaming, terrified that he won’t get there in time.

Let me share with you something that happened to me this weekend. I was editing Chapter 12 of my novel Of Broken Things, notably a pivotal conversation between two of my protagonists. Protagonist 1 needs to persuade protagonist 2 that she needs to master her paranormal ability, but she’s always been reluctant to do so, because she is afraid of the power it gives her over other people and considers it evil. In the first draft, I came up with the justification that since they were locked in a research facility, their life was valuable only as long as they showed promising results. It worked, but it never felt quite right.

When I came back to that scene Saturday, armed with my 20/20 hindsight, I found a much better argument that fits into the way Protagonist 1 thinks perfectly. It was never about the lab and the experiments, because they had already decided to escape and were working on a plan. But Protagonist 2 ability turned out to be essential to the success of that plan and would help them avoid recapture afterwards. Something I didn’t know when I first wrote that scene, but that I know now. It’s a small shift in focus, but it makes her subsequent success and failures seem more critical to the reader, because the stakes are much higher.

So I think that 20/20 hindsight is a super power that we writers have and we should never hesitate to use it. After all, what other profession can say, “Wait, that didn’t work out exactly like planned. Let’s go back and redo it.” We can. Every time we edit our draft, we go back in time and change the past. We are like superheroes!

All these heroes belong to Marvel.
All these heroes belong to Marvel.

Anyway, I guess what I wanted to say with this post is don’t be scared to make mistakes when you write, as long as you apply your super powers to fix them later. The first draft of anything is shit, but we have the power to transform it into a masterpiece. All it takes is hard work and perseverance.

Kill your Darlings.

Editing

I will be elbow deep in revisions of my novel Of Broken Things, my sci-fi murder mystery which started as a love story, for at least the next couple of months, so expect to see some blog post about editing, starting with this one.

Today, I want to share with you a story that, in my opinion, is the perfect example of why it’s essential to kill your darlings when editing. And by that I don’t mean murdering your favorite characters in a particularly gruesome way. No, it means not being afraid to cut out and rewrite (or sometimes delete entirely) some scenes that you like, because they don’t work with the flow of the story. This, my friends, is the hardest and the most heartbreaking part of the editing process.

But let’s go back to the story I wanted to tell.

About a year ago, a writer I know finished his first novel and decided to get it published. He sent his manuscripts to several big publishers (yes, he decided to bypass the search for an agent process and submitted directly to the publishers), but none of them seemed interested. After doing this for several months and receiving several rejections as well as some negative feedback, he decided to seek the opinion of his peers and sent his manuscript to several beta readers. Yes, he probably should have done that before submitting to publishers, but he had been certain that the book was perfectly publishable.

The beta readers came back with the verdict that the story needed a lot of work before it was anywhere near publishable. All of them were unanimous in their assessment that the beginning needed to be scrapped in its entirety. Let me tell you why.

The story opens with a prologue which begins with the words “Dear reader, imagine a world where…” and is followed by several pages of backstory and worldbuilding. All of which is presented info-dump style. Then Chapter one starts with four paragraphs describing the weather and the scenery. So about 16 pages in, we still don’t know who the protagonist is or what the story is about. I don’t know about you, but I would have closed the book and moved on to the next one by that point.

The betas told this author, “Scrap the prologue. Find a way to integrate that information into the story in smaller bites. Introduce your protagonist early on. Start with the action.”

The author refused to change anything. His answer was, “But I like those scenes at they are!”

kill-your-darlings

He was so attached to his words that he couldn’t see any flaws in his story. He didn’t t want to kill his darlings…

As far as I can tell, he hasn’t editing his book yet and still tries to send it to publishers as is. Unsuccessfully, so far. Moreover, he is so fixated on getting this story published that he hasn’t written anything new since.

I realize that it’s one of the hardest things we have to do as writers. My heart bleeds when I have to scrap a scene I had fun writing, but it’s a necessary evil to make the story better. So when editing, I try to always keep in mind the following considerations:

 

  1. No word is set in stone.

I agree with Ernest Hemingway when he says that the first draft of everything is shit. So I set off writing any story with full knowledge that 99% of the words I put on the page will be changed during revision. I try not to get too attached to them, which is also rather liberating because I don’t have to agonize over clunky dialogue or lack of description and setting at that point; I just need to put the entire story on paper and reach the end.

There are passages that I love when I first write them, of course. But if I realize that they don’t really work with the rest of the story, I don’t hesitate to change them or ax them entirely upon editing.

 

  1. Every scene must add value to the story.

I think one of the mistakes most of us make when we write down our story is that we get too attached to a particular scene and don’t want to change it later. Like that author with his prologue.

What we must remember is that those scenes are part of something bigger, aka the story we want to tell. And the story must always take precedence over a scene, no matter how much we like it.

So when I edit a scene, I always ask myself: Does this scene move the story forward? It is important for character development? Can the same effect be achieved by adding a few paragraphs to other scenes? If the scene doesn’t meet those criteria, I don’t hesitate to take it out or cannibalize it for material to add elsewhere.

For example, yesterday I removed about 700 words worth of dialogue where my characters discuss the military structure of their world. I had tremendous fun researching and writing that scene, but it brought absolutely nothing to the story. Sure, it added to the worldbuilding, but knowing about the military structure had no impact on the story. So out of the window it went.

revision angst

  1. It’s all about the readers.

That’s the hardest lesson of all, I think. Ultimately, we don’t write stories for ourselves, not if we want them published and read at least. We write them for the enjoyment of our readers.

If a reader tells you, “I loved your story! I couldn’t put it down! What other stories do you have for sale?” that’s when you know you’ve done it right, no matter how many darlings you had to kill in the process.